Study Supports Potential Brain-Changing Benefits of Hearing Aids

Timely intervention with well-fit hearing aids may reverse cognitive decline associated with hearing loss and improve brain processing, according to a study by researchers with the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences Department.

Silhouette of virtual human on brain delta wave form 3d illustration, representing meditation and deep sleep therapyThe report, published February 2020 in Frontiers in Neuroscience, adds to a growing body of research connecting the use of hearing technology to benefits that go beyond the ability to hear. It further bolsters the importance of early hearing loss treatment for overall patient health. Studies have long linked hearing loss and other conditions such as cognitive decline in older adults, with data showing evidence of:

  • Accelerated brain shrinkage
  • Five-fold risk of dementia
  • Earlier onset of decline
  • And other changes

Increasingly, however, research points to hearing technology’s affirmative benefit to brain health. For example:

  • A study published in 2019 found that acoustic rehabilitation with hearing aids or cochlear implants may aid cognitive functioning in older adults with age-related hearing loss or presbycusis.
  • A University of Maryland-led study published in 2018 found that hearing aids not only improve auditory ability in seniors but also may restore cognitive and neural function. In the present study, “Cortical Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Function in Early-Stage, Mild-Moderate Hearing Loss: Evidence of Neurocognitive Benefit From Hearing Aid Use,” researchers sought to better understand the source of neurocognitive deficits in presbycusis and the potential modifying effects of hearing technology.

Using metrics including visual evoked potentials, cognitive function, and speech perception abilities, investigators evaluated 28 adults with untreated mild to moderate presbycusis and 13 age-matched normal-hearing controls. The average age of participants was 64. After getting a baseline and having the participants with presbycusis use professionally fitted bilateral hearing aids for six months, investigators found that the experiment group:

  • At baseline showed “more extensive recruitment of auditory, frontal and pre-frontal cortices during a visual motion processing task than the [normal-hearing] control subjects, providing evidence of cross-modal re-organization and compensatory cortical neuroplasticity”
  • After the six-month period of hearing aid use, exhibited a reversal in the “cross-modal recruitment of auditory cortex for visual processing,” which coincided “with gains in speech perception and cognitive performance”

According to the authors, “More extensive cross-modal recruitment of the right auditory cortex was associated with greater degree of hearing loss, poorer speech perception in noise, and worse cognitive function.”

Hearing devices, however, may have made a difference even beyond better hearing.

“Beyond the known benefits of hearing aid use on communication,” wrote investigators, “outcomes from this study provide evidence that clinical intervention with well-fit amplification may promote more typical cortical organization and functioning and provide cognitive benefit.”

We can help your patients stay sharp, engaged, and empowered with timely screenings and comprehensive solutions to meet their hearing needs. Please contact us today to discuss how, together, we can provide our community the highest level of health care.

Frontiers in Neuroscience. Glick HA, Sharma A | Cortical Neuroplasticity and Cognitive Function in Early-Stage, Mild-Moderate Hearing Loss: Evidence of Neurocognitive Benefit From Hearing Aid Use. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020. World Health Organization. Deafness and Hearing Loss. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Linked to Accelerated Brain Tissue Loss. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.

The JAMA Network | JAMA Neurology. Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hearing Loss Accelerates Brain Function Decline in Older Adults. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.

Anzivino R et al. Prospective Evaluation
of Cognitive Functions After Rehabilitation With Cochlear Implant or Hearing Aids: Preliminary Results of a Multicentric Study on Elderly Patients. American Journal of Audiology. 2019;28:762-774.

University of Maryland Right Now. UMD Research Shows Hearing Aids Improve Brain Function and Memory in Older Adults. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020. The Lancet. Frankish H, Horton R. | Prevention and Management of Dementia: A Priority for Public Health. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.